Cute, wily pet fox ‘has his moments’

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Cassidy Gordon of Jasper feeds chicken gizzards to her pet fox, Levi, on Thursday. Cassidy and her husband, Zach, built an enclosure for Levi in their backyard. "We hope that when he gets older and calms down a bit, he can come back inside," Cassidy said. 

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — Agile, smart and cute — a quick Instagram search shows pet foxes can certainly keep up with their canine and feline counterparts in overall adorableness. But for as precious as social media makes them seem, actually caring for a fox is a demanding endeavor that’s not for everyone.

Bouncing around in a 10-by-20 zoo-like enclosure in downtown Jasper is Levi, a pet red fox that Cassidy (Schwenk) Gordon has raised from a 5-week-old pup to a 2-year-old ball of energy. Raising him has been rewarding, but the process has also presented its share of challenges.

Foxes require lots of attention, don’t smell the best and need frequent trips to a veterinarian who sees exotic pets.

Though it’s not cuddly like the bonds between humans and domestic animals, Gordon and Levi do share a special connection rooted in the owner’s sense of care. Gordon wants what’s best for Levi, and she protects and nurtures him like a child.

“The best way I can describe having a fox is like taking care of a 2-year-old [child],” Gordon said with a laugh. “Following him around, making sure he doesn’t hurt himself. But this 2-year-old has the personality of a very angsty teenager.”

Cassidy and Zach walk their pet fox along the Jasper Riverwalk on Thursday. Cassidy researched foxes for a year and half before taking Levi home in March 2016. "He's surprisingly a way better walker than our dog is," Cassidy said.

The Jasper woman later said about owning a pet fox: “It’s not for everybody. It takes a very special person.”

Levi came to live with Gordon and her husband, Zachary, in spring 2016 when Levi was little more than a month old. After lots of research and wanting a pet fox for four years, Gordon purchased him from a U.S. Department of Agriulture-certified breeder in Orleans.

Raising a pet fox is a different experience for everybody she said, explaining that some foxes are docile while others can be a handful. Levi falls somewhere in between — a little skittish and headstrong, but also sweet and perfect at times.

“Levi, he has his moments,” Gordon said. “He has moments where he’s just the perfect little animal, just [the] perfect pet. And he’ll be nice and he’ll roll on his back and let me pet his belly, and we’ll play fetch.”

Hoosiers can own just about any animal as a pet with the proper permit. Gordon legally owns Levi, and has an Indiana Department of Natural Resources wildlife possession permit for him.

She explained that the hope was to litter train and keep him primarily indoors when she picked him up a couple years ago. Levi regularly created “a typhoon” of a mess in their home, however, and he was moved to the backyard fixture full time about six months after he arrived at the Gordons’.

"They're a lot of work," Cassidy said about owning a fox. "Even knowing what I found out from researching foxes, having him still ended up being a lot more work than I thought."

The outdoor enclosure he lives in is outfitted with a log, straw, fake trees and fake grass, as well as objects he can hop up on as he bolts around the enclosure. He also has an underground den.

Foxes’ personalities drastically change in the autumn of their first year of life — a temperamental change referred to as the “October crazies” in the fox community — during which the animals’ behavior shifts from dog-like to aggressive and skittish. It was a tough time for Gordon, who admitted she almost gave Levi up during his transition.

Zachary helped her stick with it, and now she said Levi’s behavior is much better. He doesn’t attack, but he also doesn’t let Cassidy hold him, unless he’s scared.

“You’ve gotta respect him, too,” Gordon said. “It’s what he is. You can’t change what he is, so you have to just respect that he’s a fox.”

Even though he’s not cushy, he’s still a part of the Gordon family. Gordon and Zachary often take Levi on walks late at night. The couple has an Australian shepherd, Luca, that Levi loves to play with.

"He's got the responsibility of a 2 year old but the attitude of an angst teenage," Cassidy said about her fox, Levi.

They feed Levi a mix of dry cat and dog food, lightly cooked chicken breasts, raw eggs, cheese, vegetables and apples.

And Gordon is always thinking of ways to make Levi’s life better by improving his enclosure.

When he calms down as he grows older, she said she’ll invite him back indoors.

Foxes can live between 10 and 15 years in captivity.

Gordon said she doesn’t want to endorse owning a fox, but she also doesn’t want to discourage prospective fox owners from adopting or purchasing one if they’re committed to the idea. She stressed that owners should be patient, have time to spend with their fox and have the financial means to support it.

“I don’t want to shoot down anybody’s dreams, but if you have the passion and heart to do it, go for it,” she said.

Levi waits to be fed on Thursday afternoon. Cassidy and Zach built an enclosure for Levi in their backyard in Jasper.



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